HomeNewsArticle Display

JBLE Airman overcomes struggle by paying it forward

U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Travis Shaw, Headquarters Air Combat Command Surgeon General pararescue programs manager, talks to Airmen during a water confidence training class in Fort Eustis’ Anderson Field House at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, March 6, 2018.

Senior Master Sgt. Travis Shaw, Headquarters Air Combat Command Surgeon General pararescue programs manager, talks to Airmen during a water confidence training class in Anderson Field House at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., March 6, 2018. Shaw emphasized the importance of mental composure and led the Airmen through meditation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Monica Roybal)

(From Left) U.S. Civil Air Patrol Cadet 1st Lt. Thomas Hall, U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Michael Svoleantopoulos, 497th Operation Support Squadron weapons tactician, and U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Dajon Begin, 45th Intelligence Squadron full motion video imagery mission supervisor, help each other prepare their uniforms for the pool at Fort Eustis’ Anderson Field House at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, March 6, 2018.

Civil Air Patrol Cadet 1st Lt. Thomas Hall, left, Air Force Staff Sgt. Michael Svoleantopoulos, 497th Operation Support Squadron weapons tactician, and Air Force Staff Sgt. Dajon Begin, 45th Intelligence Squadron full motion video imagery mission supervisor, help each other prepare their uniforms for the pool at Anderson Field House at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., March 6, 2018. Team unity and integrity are the main pillars in the water confidence training class. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Monica Roybal)

(From Left) U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Dajon Begin, 45th Intelligence Squadron full motion video imagery mission supervisor, U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Travis Shaw, Headquarters Air Combat Command Surgeon General pararescue programs manager, and U.S. Civil Air Patrol Cadet 1st Lt. Thomas Hall, practice water confidence exercises in Fort Eustis’ Anderson Field House at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, March 6, 2018.

Staff Sgt. Dajon Begin, left, 45th Intelligence Squadron full motion video imagery mission supervisor, Senior Master Sgt. Travis Shaw, Headquarters Air Combat Command Surgeon General pararescue programs manager, and Civil Air Patrol Cadet 1st Lt. Thomas Hall, practice water confidence exercises in Anderson Field House at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., March 6, 2018. The Airmen practiced buddy breathing, which requires two Airmen to share one snorkel. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Monica Roybal)

JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va.(AFNS) -- As he drove home on an overcast winter’s day, a flood of critical thoughts fueled feelings of defeat that consumed every moment since the blow horn was pressed to signal, “I quit.”

Staff Sgt. Michael Svoleantopoulos, 497th Operations Support Squadron weapons tactician, returned from the Air Force Pararescue Indoctrination Course much sooner than he anticipated.

Svoleantopoulos spent the previous three years mentally and physically training for his goal to successfully cross-train into pararescue. Four weeks into the 13-week development and indoctrination course, he blew the horn to signify self-induced elimination.

“I was feeling extremely low and pathetic,” Svoleantopoulos said. “I stopped working out and I just didn’t care. My direction in life was to get that beret and I failed. I didn’t know what to do anymore.”

Svoleantopoulos said a chance run-in with his training partners at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, in December 2017, is what sparked the beginning of his recovery process. He said the support system of friends and his desire to want to give back to the battlefield Airman community is what helped him bounce back from this personal defeat.

The first step toward recovery was returning to the water confidence classes instructed by Senior Master Sgt. Travis Shaw, Headquarters Air Combat Command Surgeon General pararescue programs manager. Svoleantopoulos said he has been attending the classes since they met two years ago.
“He has invested so much time in us and I owe it to him to use the insight that I have gained to help others in the class to succeed,” Svoleantopoulos said. “I need to show my appreciation for his hard work by paying it forward.”

For the past five years, Shaw, who cross-trained into pararescue, has been teaching an informal water confidence training class for service members interested in cross-training into battlefield Airman careers such as pararescue and combat control.

“I focus on water training because I know from personal experience how much guidance is needed in that part of the indoctrination course,” Shaw said. “This is where most people falter, so I need to prepare them for the toughest part.”

Upon hearing about Svoleantopoulos’ self-elimination, Shaw said he knew he had to allow time for personal healing, but he also knew now was the time Svoleantopoulos needed the very close-knit community of battlefield Airmen.

“This is an exceptional network of like-minded people--that is incredibly important for service members to fall back on,” Shaw said. “We got together to work through this failure, and this was his opportunity to learn from it and grow. I believed the best way for him to move past it was to bring this experience back into the pool to help others.”

Svoleantopoulos said although he cannot tell his training partners exactly what he did at the indoctrination course, he can guide them in the right direction.

“I’m trying to help them learn from my mistakes,” Svoleantopoulos said. “I am the baseline of where they should start to prepare for this training. They don’t need to waste time on useless training methods when I have firsthand knowledge of what works.”

According to Shaw, the two-year long process to become a pararescueman, called the pipeline, has an 80 percent attrition rate, losing most participants during the water training indoctrination phase.

Shaw said the high rate of participant drop-out is why a solid network of support is imperative to conquering the mental battle.

“The network we have established is invaluable,” Shaw said. “It’s not just what we do in the pool. These guys do all kinds of events together, train in other areas to stay well-rounded and check in on one another to stay motivated and push each other to achieve their maximum capabilities.”

Svoleantopoulos said part of Shaw’s training was to prepare for failure. The Airmen were tasked with exercises they could not pass, so that Shaw could gauge their responses.

“He would do things he knew would break us and then ask ‘What are you going to do now?’” Svoleantopoulos said. “If [we] didn’t react appropriately, he would teach us a better way to handle it.”

Armed with the tools to help him continue new career pursuits, Svoleantopoulos said he is ready to start training for his new goal of becoming a U.S. Army Ranger.

“I consider this my biggest failure in life, but it’s also my biggest motivator,” Svoleantopoulos said. “Ultimately, the network and the bonds that I made prior to going to the indoctrination training is what saved me. Now, it is what’s pushing me to continue my journey.”

Engage

Facebook Twitter
#ICYMI Yesterday, #USAF Chief of Staff @GenDaveGoldfein had the privilege of presenting the Air Force Cross to Tech… https://t.co/E1f8TBgJYn
Planning to visit the National #911PentagonMemorial? Know before you go; the memorial will close temporarily later… https://t.co/8dBsvEl1gW
RT @ActingSecAF: Op-ed | The U.S. Space Force must be independent but not insular - https://t.co/VAoFe3oXF1 https://t.co/swaIMlVVDZ
👋 Hello @CityOfDallas, #AmericasAirForce is heading your way Sept. 27. Mark your calendars and meet us there!… https://t.co/MWnoLe8aSF
RT @DeptofDefense: Can we fix it?! 👷 $106,176 is how much money the @usairforce saved, thanks to Tech. Sgt. Keith Boudreau’s innovative 3D-…
RT @WomenInAviation: USAF women pilots to provide inspiration to future female aviators https://t.co/HsQuy6RKSH #WomeninAviation #GIAD19 #F
RT @AFResearchLab: "The technologies of tomorrow will exist because of the "Basic Research" of today." Read more on how we're collaboratin…
#WatchLive today at 9:00 A.M. EDT as Barbara M. Barrett, Secretary of the Air Force nominee, testifies before Congr… https://t.co/7DsAHZSZRL
RT @PACAF: #PACAF photo of the Week! #Defenders from bases around the world converged on #Guam to drill in close quarters urban combat as…
An Oral History of 9/11 - Commander Anthony Barnes, "That first hour was mass confusion because there was so much e… https://t.co/cqmFnxB9LA
RT @ActingSecAF: We will #NeverForget the lives lost, both victims and first responders, or those Airmen who have sacrificed so much since…
RT @ActingSecAF: Thanks @JohnBoozman & @RepGaramendi for hosting an early #USAF birthday celebration & honoring the service of our #Airmen
RT @DeptofDefense: WATCH LIVE: @POTUS Donald Trump, Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark T. Esper, & Chairman @thejointstaff @USMC Gen. Joe Dunfor…
RT @AirmanMagazine: The paint job on these @48FighterWing F-15s is similar to that of the P-47 Thunderbolt, the primary aircraft used by th…
Six years ago, Lt. Col. Dan Magruder lost his friend and fellow #AirForce Veteran to suicide. Their training didn't… https://t.co/fY7sVgrriF
#ICYMI, the #F22 turned 22! Happy Birthday! https://t.co/KH4m6FnJk5
RT @Eagles: Thanks to the 177th Fighter Wing for today's amazing flyover! #AFFlyover | #FlyEaglesFly https://t.co/s7EJqi1O1l
RT @AirmanMagazine: A B-2 Spirit from @Whiteman_AFB received fuel from a KC-135 Stratotanker above the Norwegian Sea, Sept. 5, 2019. This e…